Sunday, April 01, 2007

Opinions vary about Martinsville's future

MARTINSVILLE, Va. – There’s nothing like walking into the middle of a movie.

After sitting in bumper-to-bumper traffic for one hour, 20 minutes trying to get into Martinsville Speedway Sunday morning, the first thing I heard when I walked into the press box was track president Clay Campbell on an audio feed from the downstairs media center.
He didn’t sound happy.

Taped to the back of the press room door was a sign telling me what was going on. At 10 a.m., Campbell commenced an effort to “address recent, persistent, unfounded and irresponsible stories and rumors about Martinsville’s demise.”

“Unfounded” and “irresponsible” are strong words, and within just a few minutes I was told the flash point for this rebuttal was a column on nascar.com written by David Caraviello. Click here for a link to that story if you want to read it in its entirety.

If you’ll take the time to go to that link and go all the way to the bottom, you will see a tagline on the bottom that says the opinions expressed there are solely those of the writer.

That’s what Caraviello is paid by NASCAR.com to do – express an opinion. That doesn’t give him carte blanche, of course. A good columnist is still responsible and his opinions are founded in fact. But the nature of opinion is that people have the right to agree or disagree, and it’s perfectly understandable that Campbell and the folks at Martinsville Speedway wouldn’t agree with what Caraviello wrote.

That, however, also doesn’t mean Caraviello is necessarily wrong, either.

I don’t agree with some of what’s in the column either. “Compared to most other race tracks in NASCAR, the place is a dinosaur,” Caraviello wrote. “And we all know what happens to dinosaurs. They go extinct.”

Martinsville is not a dinosaur. Campbell and the capable staff who works with him have done a remarkable job of striking a unique balance between the old and new schools. This .526-mile track has grown markedly as the sport has grown around it, but it still also has managed to maintain a small-town charm that makes a weekend here fell as much like the centerpiece event at a county fair. And I think there should be room in the sport for that.

That having been said, though, Caraviello is right on when he writes that the prospect of new tracks in places like the Pacific Northwest, New York City or Denver are bad omens for a track in a market as small as this one is.

While it is petty to try to make it a big deal that Martinsville doesn’t have paved parking lots, it’s not to correctly note that a lot of big-time sponsors don’t bother with hospitality here. It is hard to get people here from any significant distance.

I stayed at the nearest major commercial airport, near Greensboro, N.C., this weekend and drove 42 miles each way each day. You can stay in Danville, Va., which is a little closer, but unless you’ve been doing it for a couple of generations, good luck finding a hotel room in Martinsville itself. It would have taken me maybe half the time it did to get to my parking spot if guards weren’t standing, arms crossed and scowls affixed, across the logical place to enter while hundreds of cars were directed around the posterior to get to the elbow to get to where they should have been going.

“Right now, it's a race track being saved by red tape,” Caraviello writes. If International Speedway Corporation does ever overcome opposition and get a track built somewhere else, especially if that new track is a short track, Caraviello is right to say that the clock is ticking here.

It’s not irresponsible to point out that Martinsville is in a vulnerable spot. You could argue all day that other tracks deserve to lose a date before this one does, but that doesn’t mean that’s what would happen.

Clay Campbell and his staff have a strongly vested interest in keeping Martinsville out of the discussion when it comes to where Nextel Cup dates for future tracks might come from. But their enemy in that fight is not a columnist like Caraviello who effectively presents the opposite argument and backs that up with things that are rooted in his more objective reality.

25 comments:

BruSimm said...

How tiring to see another track's future threatened by growth and expansion. The future of NASCAR is steamrolling forward. The tracks that are rooted in the history of the sport are becoming casualties of marketing momentum and the real racing where wheel men make the race, are being relegated to the local short tracks while mid sized, high speed tracks that draw the TV #'s get the attention and the focus.

It's the inevitable, no matter how much we don't want to see it.

-Bruce

Anonymous said...

If NASCAR loses Martinsville for another cookie cutter, like they did with Darlington and Rockingham, it will move me that much closer to no longer being a fan. I have never seen a sport spit on its fan base so much.

Anonymous said...

It sounds like David Carry-the-water is another of nascar.com's lemmings that defends everything NASCAR does. I doubt anyone on that site would defend Martinsville, since Pope Brian probably intends to lose it for another place that doesn't even want NASCAR. Last I checked, the stands are still full for Martinsville races, unlike California.

Anonymous said...

or Atlanta.

Monkeesfan said...

Here is where Caraviello is wrong - he ignores that those proposed tracks in the Seattle area, Denver, and NYC are going nowhere because no one there wants them and ISC can't justify them. NASCAR's expansion into non-racing demographics has not worked - tracks like Chicagoland, Homestead, and Vegas sell out more on corporate bulk-purchases of tickets, ticket giveaways, and the like; they don't sell out on their own strength as racetracks or demograhics. Fontana barely sold out 1997-2003 and no longer sells out, to where it can't justify having two dates. In contrast, Darlington was put on the chopping block, but it backfired and it not only sells out, it sells out enough to warrant getting its second date back.

Martinsville likewise sells well on its own strength, and is in better shape than Caraviello seems to think.

Anonymous said...

I hope monkeesfan is right. I like his point about the 'corporate bulk purchases' of tickets at many tracks. I would be nice to see what percentage of tickets at each track are actually bought by fans. I am sure that info will never be made public however.

Monkeesfan said...

Anonymous #6, when looking at a track, always keep in mind what demographic it's in. Pocono, Michigan, the short tracks, Darlington, Texas, and so forth are in racing demographics - they sell well on their own strength and on being located in demographics that enjoy racing - Kentucky is in a racing demographic even though NASCAR keeps stiffarming it for Winston Cup. The tracks in more urban areas - "big" markets like Chicago, Fontana, and the proposed Seattle, Denver, and NYC tracks - are not racing demographics; they haven't drawn well on their own.

An exception is Vegas, which draws superbly despite not being a racing demographic. How much of that is because of corporate bulk-purchases and so forth I'd like to know.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry David but...WE the "Common Fan" have been strung along and strung along by The France Family Mafia and there band of merry thugs who all bow to Dom Brian...Martinsville's clock IS ticking...With the persuit of being in EVERY frickin' market it TOO shall be a victim just like North Wilkesboro, Rockingham, and Darlington! NASCAR is about money...plain and simple if the folks at Martinsville can't produce...The F.F.M will shake down another city #5

Anonymous said...

The best thing that tracks like Martinsville have going for them is that the bloom is off NASCAR's rose. Ratings are down. Attendance is down - most noticeably at Fontana. Recent Cup champions can't command full-season primary sponsorship deals. They debut a new car that represents about seven years' worth of research and the first winner in it uses the Victory Lane spotlight to say it "sucked." The crest has passed.

The problem is twofold. One is that both of the speedway builders decided that a new track isn't economically feasible unless open wheel can also run there. This gets us the cookie cutter problem. Single-file, downforce racing and all that. The other is that with the building of the Kansas City track, NASCAR joined other pro sports in raiding the public till to build its facilities. This often means that municipalities have to choose - new baseball/basketball/football venue, or a race track. When voters and taxpayers begin to see that there's some opportunity cost involved, they pressure officials to make other decisions.

The France family is going the way of the WWE's McMahons. The first generation built it, the second grew it, and the third will oversee its ruin.

Olde Typewriter said...

Keep hope alive...and keep vrooming around M'ville!

Robbie Mac said...

Look at the racing this past weekend. Awesome, no need for imaginary cautions, great finish. Great track. Great history. NA$CAR needs to learn about it's own history from time to time. I don't see myself talking 20 years from now about some boring cookie cutter race. My emial to the other David's not gonna be so nice!

Monkeesfan said...

Anonymous #9, the only area I have a disagreement is the whole "cookie cutter" issue. Track builders were right to build them as multipurpose tracks because it really isn't economically feasible to build them for just one type of racing; the only kind of "single-purpose" track they could get away with is a Talladega-style superoval.

There's an assumption implicit in the "cookie cutter" debate that is wrong, and that is that if they'd have built "stock car friendly" tracks then these newer markets would not have trouble with attendence or ratings. The problem here is that Kansas and Kentucky are "cookie cutters" and draw well; Vegas draws well even before they revamped the turns (a project that never made any sense to begin with). Only Fontana, Homestead, and Chicagoland have trouble with attendence (Chicagoland is one of the more notorious tracks for padding its attendence with giveaways etc.) Attendence would not have been any better at Fontana, Homestead, or Chicagoland if they'd been built as Bristol or Richmond-style short tracks. It might have been different if they'd all been built as 2.6-mile superovals, but even there I doubt these "big" market tracks would draw that well.

The reality is that demographics work against Chicagoland, Fontana, and Homestead and are decisive blockades to tracks in Seattle, Denver, and NYC; Martinsville is in a racing demographic and that bodes well for it.

Anonymous said...

I attended my first race at Martinsville this past weekend. The racing was great; however, it will be my last visit to Martinsville. When I decide what races that I attend each year, I evaluate the 'entire racing experience'. I have to rate Martinsville as the worst racing experience that I have ever had. (I have also been to Indy, Talladega, Charlotte, and Atlanta)

Getting to and from the track was terrible. It took almost 3 hours to drive less than 5 miles. There was no real traffic control b/c the highway patrol that were supposed to be directing traffic were just standing around looking p.o.ed.

Once we finally got to the track, the crowds were terrible, entering and exiting the track. There was such a rush of people to enter the track, that the security that was supposed to be checking bags just waived everyone through the line. After the race, there was a mass of people stopped in the area between turn 1 & 2. I almost got run over b/c the mass of people behind me were trying to push their way through the crowd.

The restroom facilities were in a state of disrepair. It appeared that no maintenance had been done on the facility in at least ten years.

There was one plus, the concession prices were reasonable (however, the hot dogs were noting special ...average at best)

What NASCAR needs is a new track built like Martinsville. Either that, or have the track promoter at Martinsville make a concerted effort to coordinate traffic control on race day, and spend a few dollars on upgrades and maintenance on the facility. Until then, my hard earned money will be spent attending races at other venues.

Anonymous said...

Tell Opie to write about Mayberry-not Martinsville! Go MARK MARTIN!

Anonymous said...

As for those who claim that Martinsville was a sellout, there must have been a lot of race fans disguised as empty seats. At least, that's what I saw on my widescreen TV ...

Anonymous said...

I was at the Martinsville race and it was close to a sellout. However, a lot of fans left when the race was red flagged due to the rain delay. Too bad those fans left, they sure did miss a great finish.

The racing was great at Martinsville; however, the track is a dump.

Monkeesfan said...

NASCAR doesn't need a new track like Martinsville; it needs at least one new track like Talladega.

Anonymous said...

Mike,

The last thing NASCAR needs is another superspeedway. Talladega is my 'home track'; however, it is my least favorite track. I don't consider it true racing when a driver has to rely on 'help' from drafting partners to get to the front. The fact that Michael Waltrip has won two Daytona 500's and Derrick Cope has won one Daytona 500 should tell you that driver skill is not needed to win a restrictor plate race. Luck at a restrictor plate race is more important than driving skill.

Tim said...

I live in High Point, and left for the race at 8am for the 45 minute drive there, and got in fine. Is that too early for you people? You must not have a job. The bathrooms in disrepair? I'm there to see a good race, not be pampered, so if that's what you want, leave the tickets for real race fans, and take your ass to the spa!

I went to my first race at North Wilkesboro when I was four years old, 33 years ago, and if they touch Martinsville's dates like they did there and Rockingham, NASCAR can kiss me and my MONEY goodbye!

Gina said...

We drive from New Jersey twice each year to the races at Martinsville. The racing is always great there. Yes, the traffic is bad, but it's bad at every track I've ever been to and I've been to Charlotte, Homestead, Atlanta, Richmond (god help you getting in and out of there), Pocono, Dover & Daytona. Would I like to see them upgrade the bathroom situation and improve the traffic control? Sure, it would make things a bit more comfortable, but I wouldn't trade the racing I've seen at Martinsville just for a bathroom upgrade. I was at Homestead last year when the women's bathrooms backed up and overflowed. It was like a sewer in there -- and that is a much newer track. NASCAR has already managed to screw things up royally by making racing boring at the bigger tracks. I'll take short track racing at Martinsville any time.

Anonymous said...

I left my hotel in Winston-Salem before 8:00 and arrived at the parking lot near the track (turn 1 & 2) at 12:30. Until Sunday, I had always thought that the Atlanta traffic was the worst.

I will never go to Martinsville again b/c the place is a dump. If the track owners and promoters don't care enough to put money into the track for upgrades and maintenance that make the race experience better, then I don't have to spend my money there. There are plenty of other racing venues that I can enjoy a race at.

Anonymous said...

NASCAR is no different than any other mid-level professional sport leagues looking to grow. Look at the NHL, they have a first place team in Nashville & another in Phoenix (just like California Speedway) that only fills half of the arena because they want to expand their fan base while turning their backs on their base fans in Canada. It is crazy that Rockingham and Darlington have lost races just like Winnipeg and Quebec City have lost their franchises. I reminds me of the saying goes "A bird in the hand is better than one in the bush"

Anonymous said...

I was at the Martinsville race when the Hendrick plane crashed. That was terrible, but I loved the racing there. It is my favorite of the tracks I have been to, the only one that comes close to me is Pocono.

It is difficult to fight through the traffic, park, and get into the place, but it was worth it. I can understand why a tiny town like Martinsville would have traffic problems. Could someone explain Charlotte?

Monkeesfan said...

anonymous #18, when the lead changes as often as it does at Talladega, that is what true racing is. "They need help from drafting partners to get to the front." They need a lot more than that everywhere else. And Michael Waltrip and Derrike Cope's Daytona 500 wins are proof that skill is irrelevent in a plate race? I suppose Sterling Marlin needed luck to win two Daytona 500s and twice at Talladega; I suppose Ernie Irvan likewise needed luck to win at those places. Come on, skill matters a lot more than it does elsewhere because the drivers have to fight a lot harder than they do elsewhere.

mike-nj said...
This comment has been removed by the author.